A little more than three years after its founding, Interboro Community Land Trust was able to bring its first home online just before Christmas last year. Interboro’s coordinator, John Edward Dallas, remembers the night he and others from the New York City-based community land trust (CLT) knocked on their first homeowner’s door. They came bearing gifts, including a membership certificate, a houseplant, and a plaque to welcome the family into the land trust.
The home was entering the CLT through a preservation purchase—the family had been facing foreclosure, but instead agreed to sell the property to the CLT so that it could remain affordable in perpetuity. This move allowed the family to stay in the house as CLT homeowners and pay a lower monthly mortgage payment.
What are CLTs? How do they work? What are the benefits and areas of concern? We break it down for you in this handy explainer.
“That sums up one of our missions of the CLT,” Dallas says—making homeownership in the city more stable.
Interboro’s preservation project is exciting—the group is one of only a few to implement that idea, though it has been long discussed in the CLT world. Interboro has made two preservation purchases so far, both single-family homes, but it’s not where most of the land trust units will be coming from. Most will be generated by new development conducted in partnership with three of Interboro’s founding organizations: Center for NYC Neighborhoods (CNYCN), and three organizations that develop housing—Habitat for Humanity New York City, MHANY Management Inc., and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. All three have committed to placing every homeownership unit they develop going forward into the CLT. The projects currently in the pipeline are primarily in Brooklyn and Queens, predominantly in communities of color. Interboro expects to bring in 476 newly developed units in the next three to four years.
Initially, Interboro’s units will be made up of single-family homes, individual shared-equity co-op buildings, and scattered-site shared-equity co-ops. While Interboro is focused on permanently affordable homeownership, Dallas says it is not opposed to rental projects or units coming on to the CLT, especially if the long-term goal for the units is to eventually convert them to permanently affordable homeownership. He also says mutual housing associations are a possibility. Condo units are not currently allowed to exist on ground leases in New York state.
CNYCN provides various supportive services to homeowners, including homeownership counseling, legal services, consumer education, affordable refinancing, and loans and grants for repairs and retrofits. It will provide those services to homeowners in the land trust, and help Interboro develop its plan for stewardship of the land it has in trust.
Christine Peale, Interboro’s board chair and CEO and also CNYCN’s executive director, says the founding organizations saw a need for a citywide CLT to make the best possible use of the limited amount of public funding that was going to create new affordable homeownership opportunities and preserve existing homes.
One of Interboro’s goals is to ensure that when the city invests subsidy dollars and provides publicly owned land for affordable homeownership, creating permanent affordability is a top priority. The organization and its founding members, independently and as part of the New York City Community Land Initiative, are working with the city to advance different ways to institutionalize that priority, such as equitable tax treatment for CLT housing, meaning that CLT homes are taxed on their limited resale value instead of market value; recognition of CLTs as potential recipients of foreclosed properties; and increased funding from city government to support CLTs and their organizing and education activities. The city could someday even issue a mandate that a certain percentage of city-supported affordable housing must be developed on affordable land trust property, says Peale.
Interboro uses both public and private dollars from foundations and corporations, as well as bank settlement funding that was distributed across the state for the development of land trusts. This settlement funding consisted of $3.5 million stemming from the financial crisis, which was distributed to six CLTs, including Interboro. The NYC Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI), an organization of CLTs operating in the city, also received a slice of the funds.
Citi Community Development served as Interboro’s founding corporate partner and provided $1 million in initial investment money. The CLT has also received support from Enterprise Community Partners and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
This funding allows Interboro to take ownership of the land under the projects its partners develop.
Working Toward Community Control
Because of its relationship with its founding partners, Interboro’s governance is somewhat different from a classic three-part CLT board.
By the end of 2021 Interboro expects to expand its board from four directors—representing its founding organizations—to 12 directors. It will continue to have representation from the four founding organizations but it will add four CLT residents and four community members who are not CLT residents.
The eight new board members will be elected by and from among Interboro’s members. Membership will be open to anyone who resides within the five boroughs, though members will be actively recruited from the immediate areas around Interboro properties. Interboro is in the process of revising its bylaws to accommodate the expansion of non-resident membership to community-based organizations to foster collaborative relationships with those organizations rather than compete for members. It’s also working on a plan about where and at what stage of development to start recruiting members, and which community-based organizations to connect with to help with recruitment.
Dallas says they envision that as Interboro grows, members will also be able to participate by serving on committees that they form, design, and lead. Because the CLT is not developing the units it stewards, Interboro CLT members will oversee the land the CLT holds in trust but won’t directly influence the development decisions of its partners.
As more CLTs emerge across the city, Interboro has worked with its partner organizations to educate elected officials both in the city and across the state and to advocate for CLTs. Peale says they have conducted land trust presentations to state leaders and officials in cities around New York. In addition to advocacy, they also share ground leases, sample documents, and other nuts and bolts infrastructure and knowledge with partners.
“It’s kind of a growth period for the New York land trusts,” Peale says. “It’s an exciting time.”
The upsides to Interboro’s model are easy to pinpoint, Peale says. Having four organizations working together in a collaborative way allows them to call on the talent and expertise of each. They can easily pivot to new projects and flesh out and rearrange projects in their housing pipeline.
“I do feel like it’s a fairly nimble and elastic structure that can accommodate the ups and downs of community development,” she says.
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